Auckland Unitary Plan Process Update

Posted on Friday, October 19 2012

The Government has recently announced details of how the hearings and decisions on the Auckland Unitary Plan will be dealt with and has confirmed that submitters appeal rights to the Environment Court will be restricted.

The current process for new Plans under the Resource Management Act generally involves the following (summarised) steps or stages:
1. Draft Plan notified for submissions;
2. Submissions notified allowing further submissions;
3. Hearings held (by a Hearing Panel/s selected by the Council);
4. Decision on final version of Plan released;
5. Appeals to the Environment Court by submitters not happy with Council’s decision.

The process proposed by the Government differs in that an independent Hearing Panel will be selected by both the Minister for the Environment and the Minster of Conservation, to make recommendations to the Council following the submissions hearing. The Council can choose to accept or reject the recommendations. We understand that any recommendations the Council does not accept can be appealed to the Environment Court and those which the Council does accept become operative immediately and can only be appealed (by submitters) on points of law (not resource management merit).
The general process will therefore be:
1. Draft Unitary Plan notified for submissions.
2. Submissions notified allowing further submissions
3. Hearings held (by a Hearing Panel/s selected by the Ministers for the Environment and Conservation, likely to be chaired by a retired Environment Court judge)
4. Hearing Panel makes recommendations to the Council
5. Recommendations accepted by the Council become operative immediately and can only be appealed by submitters on points of law (to the High Court),
6. Recommendations not accepted by the Council can be appealed to the Environment Court.

This is a major change in the way that this important Council planning document is decided upon and is a direct result of the Council’s and Government’s view that a much faster plan preparation process, with regard to the first Auckland Unitary Plan, is needed than has been the case with the various District and Regional Plans of the former Auckland Councils.

What it means for developers and investors with an interest in the Auckland Unitary Plan is that engagement in consultation processes and expert representation during the Hearings stage is even more important as there may not be the opportunity for recourse to the Environment Court.

A Bill to amend the Resource Management Act is expected to go before Parliament later this year and we will provide further detail as it becomes available.

Feel free to get in touch if you would like us to assist you in engaging with the Council to ensure your development objectives are taken into account in the Unitary Plan.

Enjoy the long weekend.


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